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The ties that blind us-Why India should be concerned about a nuclear Iran

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The ties that blind us-Why India should be concerned about a nuclear Iran

A suspected Syrian nuclear site was bombed by Israeli jets in September. To many commentators, the air raid was a dry run for an attack on an Iranian nuclear site.
Iran’s ambiguous nuclear program and its unwillingness to cater to its international obligations have pushed it into a hard corner. India’s reluctance to work against Iran, and with the international community, has raised questions, on which side of the fence India stands on.

Iran has publicly stated that it wishes to develop a “peaceful” nuclear program to cater to its energy needs. It has also resisted numerous efforts to allow IAEA officials to determine the nature of its nuclear program, which a number of countries suspect to be of military nature.

India which is attempting to conclude a much publicized nuclear deal with the United States is also a major ally of Iran. It is unfortunate to see that India has not taken a much more publicly pro-active step towards censuring Iran over its nuclear program. A nuclear Iran is as significant a threat to India, as it would be to Israel and the greater International community.

Two of the most significant aspects of the India-Iranian relationship are the fact that
Iran is a major source of subsidized energy to India, and also that the two countries share a common interest in denying a Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan. Iran, Pakistan and India are undertaking lengthy discussions on a potential gas pipeline, which would help cater to South Asia’s energy requirements.

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However, overriding this strategic importance is the need to strengthen the non-proliferation lobby. India’s nuclear deal with the United States is heralded on the fact that it would allow India to no longer be a nuclear pariah. The very tenets of the deal, which make it significant, would become redundant if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons.

The nuclear deal is hailed for rewarding a country which has worked for everything which the NPT stands for, while not being a signatory to it. The nuclear deal seeks to strengthen
India’s claim as a nuclear power status, while eliminating the need for an energy starved India to take recourse to the nuclear black market.

The Iranians are signatories to the NPT and have violated the agreement, when they denied nuclear inspectors the right to inspect and verify the nature of their nuclear program. Increasingly belligerent
Iran, has forced the International community to take notice of its nuclear program, which many analysts have failed to see any logical reason for. After all, Iran is a net exporter of energy resources.

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The Iranian nuclear program, itself owes its roots to the nefarious A.Q Khan network. Pakistan’s role in helping Iran, was tacitly acknowledged by the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, in an interview to NBC News (14th June 2005), when he said “I do have information that some years ago, through intermediaries, we received pieces for centrifuges”. These intermediaries were Khan’s associates.

The growing strategic contact between
Iran and Pakistan should be a worry for India. It has been reported by western Intelligence, that in 1993, an alliance between Iran, North Korea and Pakistan was formed which would help develop Iran’s Shaheb 3 missile technology.  India, rightfully referred Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear program in late 2005. This is owing to India’s history in supporting non-proliferation, despite not being a signatory to the NPT itself. Pakistan condemned Iran’s referral and abstained in reporting Iran.

This led
Iran to chastise India, and warn that it would reconsider its economic cooperation with the country. Direct fallout of the Indian position was witnessed when the Iranians decided to continue negotiations on the pipeline with Pakistan, while India was sidelined. This led to the Indian finance minister to declare that India was still very much committed to the pipeline.

India does not subscribe to the view of one size fits all, towards nuclear powers. It has direct interests in denying further nuclear powers in its extended neighborhood, for it increases the chances of a nuclear conflict especially in the Middle East. This is a region where India has considerable economic and political interests. Additionally, it has particular interests in preventing the strengthening of the proliferation lobby and the rewarding the same by recognizing a nuclear Iran.

The threat of nuclear terrorism should also drive
India towards working with the international community in disarming Iran. While India has not acknowledged groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas to be terrorist groups, these groups have been responsible for the deaths of scores of innocent civilians. These groups are also actively aided and supported by the Iranian regime, which makes them complicit in supporting terrorism. A nuclear weapons state sponsor of terrorism would be catastrophic for International peace and stability.

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India has been actively concerned about the threat of a nuclear Pakistan suffering another coup d'état, which would bring to power an Islamic fundamentalist regime. This has led to a fear of fundamentalist groups using nuclear weapons against India. India, thus, has a genuine reason to fear nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranians, who do have fundamentalists in power. The fallout of a nuclear Iran, on neighboring rival Arab states would further complicate India’s dealings in the region.

A nuclear
Iran would also constitute a major threat to other allies in the region, including Israel. Israel has been a strong ally of India, offering military aid during its conflicts, even as recently as the Kargil war. India’s reasons to keep its ties with Israel under wraps are understandable, but its reluctance to condemn Iran over threats to Israel is condemnable.

Iran’s nuclear delivery systems should be a worry for India. The Shaheb, missiles, which again owe technological roots to proliferators- North Korea, are intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), which can easily reach Southern Europe. These missiles can easily travel eastwards and be a serious threat to the Indian homeland. Unfortunately a discussion on this potential threat has not taken place within the Indian corridors of power.

It should however, be noted that the situation in Iran should not be described as critical enough to warrant immediate sanctions or military actions as demanded by certain hawks. Indian interests can be served by using their diplomatic offices to persuade
Iran to accede further to the demands of the IAEA. India’s traditionally good ties with Iran should also allow us some leeway in dealing with the excesses committed by the Iranian government which India should condemn.

India’s strong stance vis-à-vis Iran should not be viewed from a prism of western interests, but from its own national interests, which would be best served if Iran is denied military grade Uranium. India and Iran, share strong bilateral ties which would help the two countries tide over the imbroglio. Iran’s domestic nuclear needs can be adequately addressed by the International community under strict oversight of its nuclear facilities, and this would also be acceptable to India.

Till such time,
India should not shy from being firm in its resolve in dealing with its ally and working with the International community in denying a successful outcome to a proliferation saga. This would show to the International community that India has broken free from the traditional shackles which bound its foreign policy and therefore has rid it of the ties which blinded us.


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Siddharth Ramana is an MscEcon in Intelligence and Strategic Studies. A student of peace and conflict studies, he is presently pursuing an additional Masters in Counter Terrorism (Israel). He has worked as a research assistant for the Institute of (more...)

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